Scott Benjamin, owner of Oil Company Collectibles Inc. in LaGrange and partner in Petroleum Collectibles Monthly (PCM), thinks our roots determine our career paths. He traces his own as proof.
“My parents took me to a lot of museums. I loved it.”
Going to museums evolved into taking an interest in antiques. Near the end of high school, Benjamin brought home an old barber’s chair, followed by street-related items, including traffic lights from the 1920s and ’30s.
But a visit to the Smithsonian Institution when he was 18 made the most impact. “I saw a gas pump from an old gas station. I’d never seen anything like that before,” says Benjamin.
Today, Benjamin is the largest buyer and seller of original gas pump globes in the world, selling hundreds of original globes each year. Collectors find him online at gasglobes.com or through his magazine, Petroleum Collectibles Monthly (PCM), a collaborative effort created with his wife, Jeannette, and his partner, Wayne Henderson. A service-station tank installer, Henderson is a gas and oil collectibles historian with a vast knowledge of oil companies and the items they used for advertising, says Benjamin.
It’s a career that began as a hobby — a curiosity, really.
After Benjamin’s Smithsonian visit, he began searching for a gas globe. One year later, he found an ad in The Plain Dealer for a 1920s Texaco gas globe in rural eastern Ohio. “I’ll never forget what the seller told me: ‘Don’t ever break it. You’ll never find another one.’ ”
He was wrong.
Benjamin found Sohio gas globes in gas stations, fire stations and farms throughout Lorain County. Before he knew it, he owned a couple dozen of them. In fact, the Texaco gas globes were readily available as one of the most popular varieties.
Next, he did his homework. He learned the Musgo globe, circa 1929, was perhaps the best known and most sought after. He discovered that a hand-painted, detailed Indian’s head design from Muskingum, Michigan, “doesn’t change hands much but can bring between $15,000 and $20,000.” But he also found out some globes fetch only $200.
Now, Benjamin deals with collectors, mostly classic car enthusiasts, who put gas globes in their garages, their dens and their basements, lighting them with low-wattage light bulbs for display purposes. One of his favorites is the TIWOSER (an acronym for Tidewater Oil Service), a seven-color, oil-painting-like portrayal of a clipper ship floating on the water with seagulls flying in the air. It’s valued at $15,000.
“The gas globes are very closely tied to old cars. Thousands of people own old cars. Many have a gas pump with a globe alongside their car. Gas and oil are closely tied with the automotive industry.”
Even in tough economic times, Benjamin has discovered “there is more demand than product. If I buy 50 pieces, within two to three weeks they’re gone.”
He thinks the demand exists in part because we need to own a piece of history. “At a time when I would have thought people would be selling them, they are recognizing they are worth something and are keeping them. They know they have good value.”